Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, or Max as he was known, found his home in Orkney in the early 1970’s. He remained in Rackwick, living in a hill croft above the valley, for four decades before moving in his later years to the flatter landscape of Sanday. Hoy, its landscape and people, are embedded in his compositions.

‘It was a strange coincidence. I was fed up living in the South, because of the noise – distant traffic, military aircraft – even in the country. I had a vague idea of living somewhere else and had gone to Orkney with my then manager, James Murdoch. I wanted to see the Viking cathedral and the stone circles. Quite by chance I saw a book in a Stromness bookshop, An Orkney Tapestry by George Mackay Brown. I sat up all night reading it and thought it was the most wonderfully poetic evocation of a place I’d ever come across.

As luck would have it, the next morning we set off for Hoy. On the ferry I got talking to a man called Kulgin Duval. He’d noticed that I was carrying George’s book, said he was on his way to visit him and his friends Archie and Elizabeth Bevan, and invited us to join them when we’d been round the island. That’s how I came to meet George. We stayed inside most of the time because of the weather, and I remember we drank an awful lot and must have been quite tiddly by the end of the day.

I saw a house that had been abandoned for years. It had no roof, no door and was in a terrible state. That was one of those starred days when your whole life changes; within just a few hours I came to know George and his work, and I now live in that ruined house and I’ve set lots of his work to music. That meeting changed my whole existence.’

Peter Maxwell Davies The Independent 9 July 1994

‘Bunnertoon – a roofless, doorless, windowless eyrie up there on the hill – and yet you knew instantly that was where you were going to base yourself.’ (Alistair)

Alistair Peebles in conversation with Peter Maxwell Davies, BBC Radio Orkney March 2006

image: Max and Anne Bevan from the Bevan family

‘I knew instantly, but that faith I suppose has kept me going all through my life. How it eventually is going to happen is another matter, and I think in all these instances – the construction of the house in Hoy out of the ruin, of course, but also such things as getting to college and doing music at all, working with orchestras, working with the Fires of London – all of this has all relied on the goodwill and generosity of friends, and I realise what a huge debt I have to people here in Orkney. … It is a wonderful thing.’

Peter Maxwell Davies in conversation with Alistair Peebles, BBC Radio Orkney March 2006

‘Walking about on Hoy those natural sounds did, somehow, become involved with George’s lines and the music does reflect those natural sound images. But more than that I think having all that room to yourself, you could pace that place and actually pace what you were writing in the music with no one coming and spoiling it by meeting you – if you were careful where you went. You could pace it out and say to yourself, well I’m going to pace this bit and this is this progression and then you could go back and think well I’m going to change that and see how that sounds and pace it again. As I’ve often said it was like walking inside a musical structure, an architectural structure, in this case together with George’s words. It is a process I still use.

Max wrote the score for Ken Russell’s film The Devils and arranged Sandy Wilson’s original score for The Boy Friend while staying at Mucklehoose in Rackwick prior to renovating and moving to Bunnertoon.

I think I did the same walk so often up on the hills there, and with all that space available you know it is very unlikely you are going to see anybody and if you do you can avoid them easily enough. But it’s a generic thing, walking high on those hills in Hoy often in really rotten weather too – it’s all part of it, part of a compositional process that has all blended together.’

Peter Maxwell Davies in conversation with Alistair Peebles, BBC Radio Orkney March 2006

Max on Hoy from Orkney Library & Archive Sound archive

images: Gunnie Moberg, Gunnie Moberg Archive, Orkney Library & Archive. Top right Max with Davy Hutch, middle right Max with Archie Bevan, Jack Rendall and Elizabeth Bevan.

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